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Transcendent Travel

Certain destinations enrich the spiritual lives of travelers. As the country opens back up, these places will inspire and encourage as they transcend the ordinary and explore the world of faith. 

Jesus’ miracles are depicted through high-tech special effects in the production of “Jesus” at the Sight and Sound Theatre. God’s provision and faithfulness intertwines the story of Noah at the Ark Encounter, where the re-created ark ranks as the world’s largest timber-frame structure.

A legacy of outreach inspires all who visit the Billy Graham Library. Scripture comes alive with 42 bronze sculptures and landscaping that resembles the Holy Land at the Shrine of Christ’s Passion. And groups that opt to travel internationally can be baptized at Bethany Beyond the Jordan, which looks as it did more than 2,000 years ago when Jesus was baptized on-site in the Jordan River.

Ark Encounter 

Williamstown, Kentucky

Built according to the dimensions given in Scripture — 510 feet long by 85 feet wide and 51 feet high — the Ark Encounter wows visitors. It is located just off Interstate 75, halfway between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Lexington, Kentucky, and a four-minute shuttle ride takes guests from the parking lot to the massive boat.

“We want to usher people back in history 4,300 years ago so they leave the modern world behind as they take the shuttle ride up to the ark,” said Mark Looy, co-founder and chief communications officer. “Each year, more than 1 million people visit the Ark Encounter.”

Amish craftspeople constructed the ark primarily from standing dead timber. Three levels of historically accurate exhibits and videos explore how the animals and Noah’s family thrived for 40 days and nights inside the ship. Exhibits also explore the ice age and the origins of different people groups. Behind the ark, the Ararat Ridge Zoo houses animals, some that are brought on board for special events. Other activities include a petting zoo and animal encounter shows.

Opened last summer, the $3 million virtual reality “Truth Traveler” takes visitors back to biblical times. Audience members wear state-of-the-art virtual-reality headsets. Special-effect seats add an element of realism as Noah and his crew build the ark, the animals enter the ship and waters flood the earth. In addition, lectures and Christian entertainment take place in the 2,500-seat auditorium, highlighted by a 70-foot-long, state-of-the-art LED screen.

Sight and Sound Theatre

Branson, Missouri

Tumultuous waves on the Sea of Galilee, the rolling hills where Jesus preached and Jesus’ crucifixion scene take on extra authenticity with state-of-the-art technology at the Sight and Sound Theatre in Branson, Missouri. The effects are created by a new million-dollar LED screen that measures 40 feet tall by 100 feet wide and serves as the stage backdrop for “Jesus.” The talented cast of nearly 50 professional actors share the stage with some 55 animals, from live birds to camels, and Roman soldiers riding horses that prance up the aisles. 

The Sight and Sound Theatre started in Pennsylvania in 1976 and opened in Branson in 2009. Each show features an original score that takes approximately three and a half years to create from conception to production. “Jesus” continues this year through December 31. In 2022, it will run mid-March through October 31. From early November through year’s end, “Miracle of Christ” will be performed. Future shows include the stories of Esther and David.

“Each production is a fictional account of a factual event,” said Mike Pittman, the company’s business development manager. “The producers study Scripture and look at what’s going on behind the scenes that we might not even know about. The family that runs Sight and Sound sees it as a ministry and a mission, with the proceeds going back into the next production.”

Shrine of Christ’s Passion

St. John, Indiana

Scripture comes alive at the nondenominational Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, Indiana. The half-mile winding Prayer Trail features 40 life-size bronze sculptures of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection amid manicured gardens, listening stations and music. “Moses at Mount Sinai” takes visitors back to biblical times through music, voice-over, lighting and sound effects. The Sanctity of Life shrine and memorial garden contains a life-size bronze sculpture of Christ agonizing over the death of an unborn child. 

The Gift Shoppe stocks religious gifts, artwork, fine jewelry and accessories. It’s a great place to relax, with two fireplaces, hand-painted ceiling murals, an art gallery and a library with cozy leather chairs where guests can check out the large selection of inspirational books. A winding staircase leads to the mezzanine that displays and sells Christmas collectibles and Nativity sets by Fontanini. 

Also, on the upper level, a new banquet and conference room seats up to 54 people. Outside, the terrace can seat 80 people for a catered hot lunch or box lunch. Groups are also welcome to bring sack lunches.

“We have 40 to 50 volunteer tour guides who take groups on walking tours or who drive club cars that hold between five and seven passengers,” said general manager Paul Anderson. “Our newest project will be finished in the fall and will be a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, with a small chapel and plaza that will look like you’re in Mexico City.”

Billy Graham Library  

Charlotte, North Carolina

On 20 beautifully landscaped acres, several miles from where Billy Graham grew up, the Billy Graham Library honors this well-known American evangelist. The Journey of Faith tour features the brick Colonial house where Graham lived from age 9 through college. Reconstructed on campus, it contains family memorabilia, some original furnishings and decor representative of the era.

“We want people to leave with a sense of peace and to be encouraged by Billy Graham’s legacy and how God used him as he evangelized around the world,” said communications manager Tanya Mazingo. 

Ruth’s Attic Bookstore stocks gifts, Bibles and Christian classics, including books written by family members. A portion of Graham’s personal books, approximately 3,700 titles from his private library, are displayed in the bookstore. His entire collection encompasses more than 12,000 books. For lunch or snacks, the Graham Brothers Dairy Bar seats 140 people amidst whimsical decor and family photos. Also on-site, the Memorial Prayer Garden is the burial site for Graham and his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, as well as members of the original crusade team.

Events include dinners, military appreciation days and special exhibits. Always popular, the monthlong Christmas at the Library will be held November 29 through December 23. The celebration incorporates a living Nativity, storytelling, horse-drawn carriage rides, a Christmas dinner and caroling. 

Bethany Beyond the Jordan  


Recognized as a sacred place since A.D. 4, Bethany Beyond the Jordan preserves the spot believed to be where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. The landscape looks much as it did 2,000 years ago. The site lies on the east bank of the Jordan River just north of the Dead Sea.

Groups can organize a baptism service at two places along the river. In addition, a baptism pool is available with water supplied directly from the Jordan River. To avoid any cultural offense, visitors are requested to wear clothing that covers their arms and legs.

Ancient structures still attest to the spiritual importance that pilgrims have placed on this location throughout the centuries. Visitors can see ruins of Roman and Byzantine churches and chapels, a monastery, caves that hermits might have used and ancient baptismal pools. Two caves, or cells, were discovered dug into the upper layers of the cliffs on the river’s eastern side. Some buildings have been restored using archaeological fragments.

Beyond its primary significance, the site is associated with the life and ascension of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah’s Hill is said to be where Elijah ascended to heaven in the ninth century B.C. 

On the western side of Elijah’s Hill lies the cave where John lived for nearly 20 years and where Jesus was known to have visited him.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.